As someone who did not own an NES, Bionic Commando was one of those elusive titles I would often hear about but never got a chance to experience. You’ve got a bionic arm, you can’t jump, and you swing around and blow up Hitler “Master-D’s” head? Sounds kinda interesting, I suppose.
So it was a welcome surprise when Capcom released Bionic Commando Rearmed — a 2.5D remake of the NES original — last year, which I promptly downloaded. Most reviewers familiar with the original agreed that this remake was an overall improvement on an already great game. Having never played it myself it was all new to me, but I mostly agreed; The game was challenging but enjoyable, and I could see why people liked the original so much. The fantastic “Neo Chip Tunes” style soundtrack was worth the price of admission alone.
Rearmed’s release was also a lead up to the fully 3D sequel, coming a full 20 years after the original version. The remake did a decent job of getting me a bit hyped up for this game, which was obviously Capcom’s intention to begin with. I liked Rearmed, so it makes sense that I’d like the sequel, right?
…right? *cricket noises*
In the original Bionic Commando and Rearmed, you play as Nathan ‘RAD’ Spencer — the titular Bionic Commando — as you’re sent into enemy territory to rescue Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson, who has been captured after he himself was sent in to take down the baddies before they inact their evil scheme (ie. resurrect Hitler ‘The Leader’) or whatever. It’s the kind of story you might expect from an NES game; it’s fairly simple and gets the job done, but it isn’t anything to write home about. Rearmed cleaned up some of the more glaring story inconsistencies as well as expanding the backstory a bit, but otherwise it’s fairly similar.
So how do you follow up an NES story 20 years later? By making it SUPER SERIOUS of course. That’s not to say Rearmed wasn’t serious; It was serious in an old Captain America comic kind of way (ie. lighthearted at times). The new Bionic Commando — on the other hand — is serious in the “we want you to think this is important” way. And when the plot of your game is predictable and mediocre, making it take itself so seriously results in an overall silly story. Such is the case of Bionic Commando. (Protip: I’ll be spoiling the story in a moment, so stop reading now if you care)
10 years after the end of Rearmed, Spencer (voiced by Mike Patton, aka all the infected in Left 4 Dead) — who you know is SUPER SERIOUS because he swears a lot — is released from prison by Super Joe (Steve Blum, aka Spike Spiegel, aka every 3rd voice in everything ever). He was imprisoned because of the ‘Bionic Purge’, but that’s not really important to the story. What is important is that some pro-Bionic terrorists have detonated a bomb in a city and Joe sends you in to deal with it, with the promise of information on your (missing) wife to give you a little push. Joe’s bastardly mustache and general demenor may not be telling enough to the more sheltered gamers, but anyone with simple knowledge of how plot twists work can tell he is the bad guy of this tale straight off the bat.
Why he’s the bad guy, I still don’t fully know; Maybe I wasn’t paying attention by the end or they just didn’t explain it well enough. It had something to do with bionics I guess, since he was secretly (or not so secretly) leading the terrorist group. In fact, there are quite a few elements of this story that seem important but are either poorly explained or just vauge. There’s a girl with bionic legs named Mag who’s with the group that seems to have a troubled past with Spencer which is vaugely skirted around; so vauge, in fact, that I did not really care when she got crushed by a robot. There’s also a mysterious sniper who shows up breifly near the start and saves you near the end, who may have some connection to Spencer or something. In this case, it’s vauge enough that even Spencer doesn’t seem to know who the fuck he is, and he promptly vanishes without a trace.
And then there is the whole story with Spencer’s wife. Joe wasn’t lying about having information, but the information in question is kinda baffling: bionics need a human catalyst to bond with their host, so Spencer’s wife became that catalyst. Soooo, his wife’s dead and they made her into the arm? Or his arm IS his wife? I don’t know and I don’t want to know, frankly. All of this feels like they tried to add depth to a story that was too shallow to begin with. To top things off, they had the nerve to leave the ending ambiguous as to Spencer’s fate, which is just as bad as someone popping up on screen and saying, “The End…?” while shruging their shoulders and raising their eyebrows a few times.
But enough about the story; how’s the game from a mechanics stand point? Well, it ranges from competent to poor. Once you get the swing mechanic down, it’s quite enjoyable to whiz through the environments (even if you do flail about from time to time), and there are certain setpieces where the swinging and the combat just go together with the environment so well (the Archives come to mind) that I found myself smiling. Using the bionic arm as a weapon, however, is where you get into problems. Grabbing enemies to use the zip-kick and finishers (pretty much a requirement when you fight all the mechs later on) suffers from the finicky nature of the auto-aim. If you’re even slightly off, you arm will instead grab the ground/walls or possibly nothing at all, leaving you either to reposition yourself to try again or falling to your doom if you happened to be in the air at the time. Said doom comes either from water you have a high chance of not being able to escape from in some cases due to there not being anything close enough to grapple, or “Radiation” which is Bionic Commando’s answer to invisible walls, except for the fact that these walls kill you. About 40% of the time you can see where the radiation is due to a blue haze, but there are still plenty of invisible spots that are lurking about. Quite a few times I died due to swinging too high/low and (due to inertia) was unable to escape the invisible field of radiation in time.
Speaking of dying, the majority of my deaths in this game were purely due to shoddy mechanics/invisible radiation; enemies and even bosses vary rarely posed a threat unless I happened to not be paying attention during a fight. And this was while I was playing on the Hard difficulty setting (just for the extra Trophy, shut up). The bosses in particular were a joke (all 3 of them), with the final boss (Joe in a mecha for some reason) being nothing but a Quick Time Event/Cutscene. Which is actually kinda odd since up till that point there were no QTEs in the game at all. So in the end, I hit some buttons, headbutted Joe’s face in, and ‘won’. If you can even call it winning.
This game was a disappointment. I was entertained for awhile near the start, but it became bland quickly. For those of you who haven’t played Rearmed, I would suggest you go play that before you even consider trying this. It’s just a better and more enjoyable product all around. Also it’s cheap and you can buy it from the comfort of your couch/chair, so that’s a plus. Or you can just listen to the soundtrack some more.
The End… OR IS IT!?!?
Yes it fucking is.